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Saturday, May 7, 2016

We learned about the successes and generosity of Washington Hunt last time, but what I truly believe to be his biggest impact on Lockport was the confidence he had in a young machinist from Seneca Falls, NY.

Former Governor Hunt, along with his partner, the honorable T.T. Flagler, found a way to lure Birdsill Holly to Lockport, and offered a deal he couldn’t refuse. They put Holly in charge of their Sewing Machine Shop on Market Street, and from there, everything else is history. Holly’s inventions, and the attention that they drew, led to the development of dozens of other factories and mills here in Lockport, and ultimately lead the Industrial Age of America.

As the Erie Canal Enlargement was completed, mile-by- mile, the volume of water arriving into Lockport from Lake Erie was even greater than before. Holly’s mind was always tinkering on something new, and in 1860, he immediately began to experiment with the Mill Race waters as they flowed around, and past, the newly completed Benjamin Moore Mill (currently Old City Hall).

Holly proposed, and built, what local resident called the “Round House”, and placed one of his own patented water turbines within it. The force of the waters generated enough mechanical power on his turbine to motorize pumps; pumps he had also been working diligently on. Holly realized that the Mill Race had enough power to actually pressurize water so that he could distribute it virtually anywhere in the village. He would lay pipes to take the water from the Mill Race and send it into homes across town, and modern indoor plumbing was the result.

But he wasn’t done there, not by a long shot. He had another 150 some patents in his head and ready to go.

He then conceived of the idea of placing a hub, or access point to the water, so that in the event of fire, the Fire Department could get the water where they needed it… and quickly. In 1864, Birdsill Holly patented his water, or hydro plant, and the very first use of his hydrant would be tested on August 26 th , 1863.

At roughly 6 pm, the water turbine within the round house began powering the pumps that drew the water up and out of the Mill Race, through pipes stretching through Old City Hall, and into the first fire hydrant installed at the corner of Main and Pine Streets.

Residents knew that something very exciting was about to happen, so they lined the street corners, keeping an eye out for a quick getaway if the experiment went bad.

As water reached the hydrant for the first time, the custom made hose held for as long as it could, but then burst under the incredible pressure that the pumps produced.

Holly was expecting this possibility, so he had the craftsman make 2 prototypes of the hose. It took only a short time to exchange the hoses, while Holly returned to Old City Hall to make manual adjustments to the pumps. On his return, the water turbine and pumps were fired up again, and that is when and where, every modern Fire Hose Company in the United States, and the world, got their start.

The Lockport Daily Journal commented the next day, August 27, 1863:
Cold Water Ahead!!
The Holly Water-Works a Complete Success!
The remarkable power of water as an agent was well and thoroughly tested last night between 6 and 7 O’clock. Our village has been very fortunate in this enterprise. Fortunate in having a great abundance of water so near at hand—fortunate in contracting with such a machinist as Mr. Birdsill Holly, and fortunate in employing Wm. G. McMaster as agent in the prosecution of the work. The work has gone on rapidly, and every part of it thus far, has met the most sanguine expectations of its friends. The water thrown last evening perfectly eclipsed anything we ever saw in “lofty tumbling” of the kind. The first stream thrown, which burst the new hose, was one inch and three-fourths in diameter, and went up full 160 feet high. Hose was attached to three hydrants and a grand competition ensued. The machinery and all the pipe and hydrants of this magnificent work, were manufactured at the Holly Manufacturing Works, under the direction of Mr. Birdsill Holly, patentee of the pump and wheel employed.
The wheel is “ Holly’s Patent Turbine” of 120 horse power. The pump is “Holly’s Patent Elliptical Rotary Pump”. Every four revolutions of the pump throws a barrel of water, and 200 revolutions per minute can be obtained. The water is thrown from the pump through a 10 –inch pipe up to Main-st, about 500 feet. The pipe through Main-st, from Cottage-st, to Locust-st, is 8-inch, and each way from those points 6-inch. The lateral pipe in Cottage and Pine south of Main, and Locust-st, are 6-inch.
This was from the double hydrant at the corner of Main and Pine-sts. This hydrant is distant over 500 feet, horizontally, and at an elevation of 53 feet from the pump. The hose attached to the hydrant was 100 feet in length, and water was thrown from that at least 150 feet perpendicular. Two streams were thrown from the same hydrant at least 150 feet perpendicular.
The pressure, as shown by the indicator and pressure gauge at the wheel-house, was 372 feet-- -(equal to a reservoir 372 feet high). While the water was being thrown through a 3 inch nozzle—at which time the new hose burst—one-third of the issues of the wheel (being just one-third of the power) were closed entirely, and then the water-gate was raised so as to produce just about one-half of the power of the wheel and pump. Six streams could then have been thrown with all the force that could be then used to advantage at a fire If the pipes were carried to High-st, then Cottage, Pine and Locust-sts, but little difference would be seen in the pressure at Main and High-sts.
This is not intended as a trial of the capacity of the works.
The regulating apparatus connected with the wheel and pump is reserved for description, say after the finish left on the completion of the work, when Mr. Birdsill Holly will furnish all needful Mr. Holly’s contract with the village only required water to be thrown 100 feet high.
The hose which burst was made by Wm. Taylor of Buffalo, one of the best manufacturers in the country. At the time it burst, the pressure of the water in the hose, was full 150 lbs. to the square inch. It will be difficult to get hose to stand the immense force which the power is capable of producing—but it can always be controlled according to the location of the fire.
The apparatus for indicating and regulating the pressure of the water is most ingenious. The wheel, pump and all the machinery, as well as the entire plan, are the inventions of Mr. Holly, and its complete success must be particularly satisfactory to himself and his friends.
We expect this truly great work will be more and more appreciated, as it is further tried and applied in different directions. Lockport moves.
The Holly Manufacturing Company could easily see that they had a winner, and began building an amazing factory at the corners of Lock and Green Streets, just across to the north of the Pine Street Bridge. Holly’s men blasted a new tunnel through the solid Lockport Dolomite to supply their turbines with water.

Holly’s system for water pressurization and fire protection for Cities and Villages drew global attention, and became the benchmark for all populated areas across the developing United States. Buildings named after Holly were sprouting up in cities from Denver to Davenport, and Kansas City to Kalamazoo. Holly’s genius was creating a revolution in the existing system of water works, thereby providing protection for not only large scale business, but also for sprawling residential areas, as urban areas grew across the United States.

Before this point, all fire departments were limited by the ability to get men, animals, machinery and water to the fire. Pulling a steam boiler to the location of the fire was no longer the most modern option, and a hose could simply be put into action just about anywhere in the city. The World’s First Hose Company No. 1 was incorporated in 1865, the same year as the City of Lockport.

Holly continued to work on bigger and better pumps to circulate water throughout cities, never once stopping to enjoy the successes he had already made. In 1878, the Scientific American Vol. XXXIX – No. 7, highlighted Holly’s genius for him, drawing even more attention to the streets of Lockport.

Holly also decided that a new system for heating homes in our harsh and uncomfortable winter environment was needed. He developed a steam heating system by first experimenting at his own house on Chestnut, now part of the parking area used by both the Lockport Public Library and the YMCA. He laid pipes underground that eventually spread to many businesses on Market Streets and Main. This highly efficient system gained the attention of another inventor, Thomas Edison, who would actually befriend, and then purchase rights to Holly’s genius, and go on to develop a well known consolidated energy company – ConEdison, or ConEd.

There are many more people from Lockport that have made huge contributions to the overall well being of the United States – more than you probably know. Back then, factories needed to be close, if not directly adjacent to flowing waters, and Lockport had plenty of it. All of the attention that Holly created also led to even more free-flowing ideas, producing even more revolutionary products, and Lockport essentially became a proving grounds for Industrial America. Once Edison’s light bulb and Tesla’s Alternating Current went mainstream, the waters of Lockport were no longer critical, and industry could virtually set up shop anywhere. Interest in Lockport dwindled.

Lockport Heritage Tours wants to bring that interest back. Old City Hall has witnessed Lockport’s changes and the brilliance of Holly, and much of that story is still being told there. Portions of the machinery that once provided all of Lockport with their water supply, still remains within the solid rock walls of this 1800’s mill. In 1893, the City of Lockport took over the mill and was then able to control the cities waters from their own building. The next year, Mr. Holly passed, and the future of Holly Manufacturing Company was in doubt, having lost their spark.

Lockport Heritage Tours will be scheduling tours throughout the coming months. If you would like to find out what some of those tours involve, go to

Call (716) 863-6980 to set up your reservations. We look forward to seeing you!

+Dr. Scott Geise, a local businessman, has an active interest in Erie Canal and Niagara County history. Please continue to share any “Historically Relevant” information you may have on our facebook page, at Lockport Heritage Tours.

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